Wednesday, October 13, 2010


In some posts a week or two ago I called myself a "religious naturalist." I've been asked: What does that mean?

Most readers here will know, but for those who asked, here, briefly, is the answer.

"Religious" in the sense that I stand with awe and attentiveness in the face of an intuited mystery that soaks every jot and tittle of the world. The extent to which that intuition comes from within or without remains to be explicated, but is irrelevant.

"Naturalist" in that I see no point in invoking the concept of the supernatural. The world of matter and energy seems adequate to account for every aspect of my experience. I see no evidence of miracles.

But -- the theist will reply -- where did the world of matter and energy come from? Why are the laws of matter and energy what they are? What is beyond space and time?

The honest answer: I don't know. Giving the unknown a name adds precisely nothing to our knowledge.

On other occasions I have referred to myself as a "Catholic agnostic."

"Catholic" in the circumstances of my birth, upbringing and education, all of which has left an inevitable residue. I have, of course, rejected the paternalism, triumphalism, misogyny, homophobia, Jansenistic moral theology, and miracle mongering of the Church. Rejected, too, creed and dogma that is medieval at best.

But I see no compelling reason to shed a Catholic sacramental attitude towards nature, allowing visible things to act as conduits for the intuited mystery. And no reason to dismiss out-of-hand a creation-centered mystical tradition exemplified by such worthies as Meister Eckhart and Teilhard de Chardin. That is to say, I feel no need to shed that which does not conflict with an unflinching naturalism.

"Agnostic" in that when faced with the biggest questions humans can ask -- Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the "meaning" of it all? -- I prefer silence to speech, believing that "the- -ology" is an oxymoron. Whatever is the referent for our word "God," if anything at all, hides -- as the great mystics have always intuited -- in impenetrable mystery.